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Providing a Home for a Potbellied Pig

By D. Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS, Relief Veterinarian; Veterinary Information Network Swine Consultant

Housing

Housing for potbellied pigs may be provided outdoors, indoors, or both.

Outdoor Housing

If kept outside, potbellied pigs need suitable shelter.

A large pen equipped with a structure—such as a large dog house—to provide a sleeping, feeding, and watering area makes a suitable outdoor home. You should allow at least 50 square feet per pig. Pigs will instinctively eat and sleep in one area and defecate and urinate in another. Daily removal of feces and the addition of fresh dirt to cover and absorb urine are required for both the good health of the potbellied pig and the control of odor. Hay or straw may be added to partly satisfy the pig’s need to root. Fresh dirt should be added weekly or more often if needed. Fencing should be well secured in the ground to prevent it from being “rooted up.” Fencing should also be removable, as the entire pen should be relocated periodically to prevent the buildup of wastes in the soil and to provide “new ground” for rooting. The old pen dirt should be smoothed out so that it is even with the surrounding soil surface and left unused for several months. If pens are maintained on solid surfaces (such as concrete pads), feces and urine should be removed daily, and fresh hay or straw provided 3 to 4 times per week. Water dispensers must be secured to prevent spilling or damage to the dispenser by chewing.

Indoor Housing

Potbellied pigs are territorial. If they are to be kept indoors, they need a defined space (such as a portion of a laundry room) with a sleeping and eating area in one corner and an elimination area in another. A large litter box with one side cut down to accommodate easy entry and exit often works well. Be sure the litter used is nontoxic; dry dirt or pine shavings are appropriate choices. Potbellied pigs are not only curious, they tend to chew on everything. Providing a blanket to burrow under or a box of dirt to satisfy the need to root will go a long way toward protecting your home furnishings.

Diet

Fresh water should be available at all times to prevent dehydration and salt toxicity. Balanced diets are essential to maintain health and prevent obesity. Starter, grower, and maintenance rations for potbellied pigs are available in many larger pet stores as crumbles or pellets. Provide the recommended amount per body weight and age divided into 2 or more meals per day. Meals should be presented at about the same time every day. Green leafy vegetables, alfalfa, and green grasses (but not weeds, because some are toxic) can be added to the ration to satisfy appetite. Fruits such as apples and grapes can be given in limited amounts. A regular source of citric acid, such as commercial products or oranges, is recommended to reduce the possibility of bladder infections and urolithiasis (the formation of kidney stones), which are common urinary problems in these animals. Many common house and garden plants are toxic to potbellied pigs, which like to root and are adventurous eaters (see Poisonous Plants). To avoid potential danger, do not allow your pig to have access to such plants.

Potbellied pigs gain excess weight easily and have a very difficult time slimming down because, once obese, exercise options are limited. Overweight pigs are likely to become lame and develop health problems such as diabetes.

The best way to help keep your pig healthy is to provide a nutritionally sound diet that discourages obesity. Do not offer high calorie treats or table scraps to your pig. Instead, offer limited amounts of healthy treats such as apples, grapes, and other fruits. Do not forget to consider the impact of treats when planning your pig’s overall diet.

Exercise

A daily routine that includes exercise and engaging activities is important for the mental and physical health of your potbellied pig. Regular exercise is necessary to maintain good health and prevent obesity. A play time that does not include treats may help reduce boredom and discourage eating foreign objects, chewing on furniture, and other destructive or dangerous behaviors.

Potbellied pigs enjoy rooting in blankets or in a special towel box supplied just for play. A favorite toy can be hidden in blankets or towels as part of a rooting game. A dirt box can also supply needed play for your pig; the dirt should be changed regularly and the box thoroughly cleaned before new dirt is supplied.

These pigs may also be trained to walk on a leash. Daily walks and play are important in reducing boredom and avoiding undesirable behaviors. Like meals and other events, walks and exercise periods should occur at about the same time each day.

Temperament

Potbellied pigs are intelligent, curious animals, and they can be affectionate toward their owners. Boredom may result in destructive chewing or rooting or in aggression. The stimuli provided by regular exercise and access to an outside environment appear to have both health and temperament benefits.

These animals have a strong sense of place and rank in their herd or family. At approximately 2 years of age, many healthy potbellied pigs will develop a more aggressive personality and challenge other potbellied pigs and humans for the position of “top hog.” Small children and even adults can be in danger from an aggressive 100-pound pig. It is at this stage that many potbellied pigs are either abandoned or placed in animal shelters.

Male potbellied pigs should not be kept as pets unless they are neutered. Neutering at an early age (2 to 3 months) is recommended to avoid development of an aggressive personality. A male pig that is rescued or adopted from a shelter should be neutered as soon as possible. Early spaying may also improve the temperament of female pigs. (See also Breeding and Reproduction of Potbellied Pigs)

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